Whitney Museum Owes $160K in Back Taxes, Says Check's in the Mail

By Amy Zimmer on January 27, 2012 2:13pm 

Officials from the Whitney Museum at 954 Madison Ave. sold the adjacent townhouses to Daniel Straus in 2010.
Officials from the Whitney Museum at 954 Madison Ave. sold the adjacent townhouses to Daniel Straus in 2010.
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DNAinfo/Amy Zimmer

MANHATTAN — The Whitney Museum of American Art is on the hook for nearly $160,000 in unpaid taxes and other fees, according to city records — but officials say the check's in the mail.

The museum has been delinquent for a year on its former property at 743 Madison Ave., directly adjacent to the museum, according to records from the city's Department of Finance.

The building was among the six brownstones and two townhouses the Whitney had been using for offices before selling them off to developer Daniel Straus in 2010 for $95 million. After that sale — to help finance the Whitney's $720 million building rising in the Meatpacking District — the museum relocated its offices to buildings around the city.

However, it leased the 943 Madison Ave. property back from Straus. Under the lease agreement, it was responsible for the outstanding taxes, Straus' spokeswoman confirmed.

Museum officials confirmed they were responsible for paying the bill, but blamed the delay on a delay in getting its bill from Straus.

"A check was issued on Jan.13," Whitney spokesman Stephen Soba told DNAinfo, explaining that the museum hadn't gotten the bill from Straus' company until the end of December and that the landlord told the Whitney he hadn't received previous bills.

"It's being paid now," Soba said.

The property’s quarterly statement from January shows it had $82,150.70 worth of unpaid taxes at the time and was levied another $72,698.08 in additional taxes. There were also outstanding fees for the Madison Avenue Business Improvement District and in a penalty for not filing the Real Property Income & Expense.

“When we had occupancy in previous years and it was owned by the Whitney, we didn’t have to pay taxes on it,” Soba noted, since it had an exemption as a nonprofit owner.

Indeed, a quarterly statement from August 2010 showed the Whitney paid roughly $15,000 in taxes on the building because of exemptions.

“Then we sold it," Soba said, "but the bill goes to JZS [Straus’ company] and we have to get the bill from them."

Straus' spokeswoman confirmed that the landlord did not receive a bill for that property and thought that the Whitney still hadn't received one yet, either. 

"I understand that the amount paid by Whitney recently is what they saw online," the spokeswoman said.

The museum only expects to keep its offices in that brownstone until April, Soba noted. The museum’s staff is expected to move into offices at its new building near the High Line in the fall of 2014. That building, designed by famous architect Renzo Piano, is slated to open to the public in the winter of 2015, Soba said.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is expected to bring its its modern and contemporary collections into the Breuer building in 2015 when the Whitney decamps to Gansevoort Street.

Meanwhile, Straus’ project to overhaul the landmark buildings he bought from the Whitney and turn them into one high-end condo with roughly 15 large apartments has been controversial in this rarefied pocket of the Upper East Side.

He got the thumbs down from the Landmarks Preservation Commission and Community Board 8 on his proposal to preserve most of the brownstone facades but essentially create one big building behind them topped with a series of boxy terracotta additions of varying colors.

In October, community board members said the development didn't fit in with the neighborhood's fabric. LPC members agreed at a public hearing that month that the proposed addition was too bulky and tall, asking Straus to revise the proposal drawn up by the well-known architecture firm Beyer Blinder Belle, which specializes in preservation.

"If you're going to have this much bulk, and this much height, you can’t have something retreating and bland," LPC Commissioner Diana Chapin had said.

A spokeswoman for the developer said he is working on incorporating the commission and community's concerns.

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